The shape of language

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by wesmorris, Nov 5, 2003.

  1. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

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    Just because I can't do it, doesn't mean I don't like three rules or something.

    I have since edited and now deny all accusations in this regard.

    As if I'd have known.

    I joke wees u. (i love triumph)

    I damn the word 'analgesic' to hell!

    It won't be the first time...

    - for me to poop on.
     
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  3. river-wind Valued Senior Member

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    Unfortunatly, I really can't come up with argumentative examples for us to pick apart, because I agree with you.
    I feel that nearly everyone (except for those with mental disorders powerful enough) is logical, however, their starting point can lead them to seemingly stupid acts.

    I have always pondered the motivation of an individual who self-mutilates. It seems self-destructive, and from both a survival and a reproductive standpoint, couter-productive. However, having purposely experienced it to understand it, I now know the thoughts which drive such a thing. Even something as seemingly pointless as this has a "good" purpose in the mind of someone doing it. As you said, or else they wouldn't be doing it.
    The pain feels solidifying, it feels good. The problem there is not the logic, or in the feeling, but in where the person is mentally and emotionally prior to the act of cutting/burning, etc. The sensation brought about by the act actually has a positive effect on the person's state of being. IMO, that's why alot of therapy for self-mutilators fails - it attempts to use logic to show them the fault of their actions; however, logic brought about their actions int he first place - to them, what they are doing is good. The only fix lies in changing the underlying starting factors, and leaving the logic to find a new path.

    - for you to poop on.
     
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  5. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

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    Such is the basis for a revolution in psychology as far as I can tell.

    For me to poop on I mean.

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    (okay I'll stop pooping on things right now, as this morning I was pooped on by my daughter who had a diaper mishap (woke up with no diaper, but poop everywhere! ICK!!! SOAP!!!! WHERE'S THE SOAP!!! ARRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! THERE'S SHIT EVERYWHERE!!!!!))
     
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  7. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    When talking about language, in general and in specific, two things must be distinguished:

    1. grammar RULES of a certain language -- phonological, morphological, syntactic, writing rules of a certain language, say English or German,
    and
    2. utterances made in a certain language.

    Saying that the rules of one language are more logical than the rules of another is not in place. Grammar rules are some surface forms. Why would it be more logical to have, say 8 tense forms than 4 or vice versa? Why would it be more logical to have the category of gender within nouns than to use the structure 'article (expressing gender) + noun'?

    What may be confusing with languages is that some have a mainly analytical structure, and some other have a manily synthetic structure.
    Examples for both in English:
    analytical tense: will ask
    synthetic tense: asked; gone, seen

    analytical plural: computerS, dogS
    synthetic plural: geese, fish, mice

    Languages that have a lot of endings -- cases, numbers, genders -- are mainly synthetic. Slavic languages, ancient Indoeuropean, Latin, German ...

    Languages that have a poor system of endings -- esp. English, are mainly analytical. But note: they COMPENSATE that lack by using ADDITIONAL markers in the form of words:
    Example:
    English: THE beautiful
    Slovene (a Slavic language): lepI

    English: A beautiful
    Slovene: lep

    The same meaning specification is expressed in BOTH languages, but by DIFFERENT MEANS. As it is, the analytical / synthetic tendency is spread over the whole of language, on all levels of it (phonetics, morphology, ...), this is why the thing looks complicated on the surface.

    ***
    As far as utterances go, they can be logical or illogical, regardless of the language. A textbook for learning logics has examples of propositions (in the language it is written in) that are logical.
    It is just that we usually DON'T COMMUNICATE IN THAT SORT OF SENTENCES, like "All cats are animals."
    Language is always used in certan contexts, and therefore many things don't have to be expressed by words -- they are INFERRED. They are there, it is just that both parties are more or less aware of them.
     
  8. wesmorris Nerd Overlord - we(s):1 of N Valued Senior Member

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    The other stuff you said about synthetic stuff and whatnot, very informatiave. Did you gather this stuff from your study in the separate languages, or in a more general study of linguistics or something?

    Actually the thought that sparked the thread was mostly a question related to exactly that point: "Can a language be constructed to facilitate logic?" or "I wonder if the shape of conceptual relationships of a language inherently makes one language more condusive to logical thought than another?". Yes, that last bit. Then it seems we (or maybe just I) sort of got off on a "philosophy of language" conversation.

    Regardless I think BBH addressed that particular question pretty well early on but I don't remember exactly what he said. Something about utility and abstracts and indirect stuff or something. I can't remember but I do remember I thought it was quite good. It seems to me you're making a similar point?

    Okay I'll look it up:

    Wow that's good stuff there.

    Yeah yeah, I think that was his point. I think you're probaby right, but I'm not sure that means that a language can't be (or whether or not one it particular is) more condusive to logic than another...

    Hmm.. yeah the more I think about it the more I think it can't be really though, as the limit is really the motivation and ability of the entity utilizing it to be logical.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2004
  9. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    ***
    Just BTW, a quick excurse into the synthetic and the analytic:
    When we wish to send a message, a meaning via language [for example 'John read a book'/'Johann las ein Buch'], there are many categories that need to be specified: who, what, where, how, why, ... At a closer look, we need to specify at least these categories: person, tense, number, gender, definiteness, time, space, causality/relation of to things, aspect, ...
    Technically, ONE word could suffice for all that: take one marker for each category and attach them all to one root. That would be too complicated though.
    So certain (meaning) categories started to group around certain stems and so we get word classes:
    certain words specified for expressing person, tense, number, gender, aspect -- they are verbs (I read, you read, he has read ...);
    certain words specified for expressing person, number, gender, definiteness -- they are pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, they ...);
    certain words specified for expressing who/what, number, gender -- they are proper and common nouns (John, Johann; book/books, das Buch/die Bücher);
    and so for all other word classes.

    Synthetic structure means that several categories are expressed in one word, analytical structure means that there are separate words to mark each category:
    the English form 'book' carries only information about what ('book') and the number (singular);
    the German form 'das Buch' carries information about what, number, case and gender (even though gender is expressed by the 'das', speakers of German find it innate that 'Buch' is neuter);
    the Slovene form word 'knjiga' carries information about what, number, case, gender -- but it is all comprimed in one single form (other forms with other meanings are knjige, knjigi, knjigo, ... and so on, 18 endings).

    Sometimes, some categories don't seem important, so a language loses them -- like gender in English nouns.
    But a 'ship', for example, if specifically talked about, is a 'she' and this is specified by the 'she'.

    As you can see, some categories are expressed in more than one word class; so in a sentence they needn't be repeated (language economy), if the categories are referring to one and the same thing.

    Some languages, like English, went in this direction. For example, the adjective has only one form, regardless of noun and number:
    a good man, a good woman, a good child, good books, ...
    But not in German:
    ein guter Mensch, eine gute Frau, ein gutes Kind, gute Bücher, ...
    Slovene makes it even shorter:
    dober clovek, dobra zenska, dobro dete, dobre knjige, ...

    (German isn't really good for these examples because it is somewhere between analytic and synthetic, and it gets awfully complicated to explain.)

    ***
     
  10. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    Wes,

    It's all from my studies in general language theory. We had classes precisely about that subject matter. Huh, maybe that makes me professionally deformed ...

    I read the whole thread and I thought it was extremely interesting; the issues and problems encountered here were those exact ones as linguists and language philosophers were dealing with for ages.

    This is why I mentioned the analytic and the synthetic structures; analytical structures are often understood as "more logical", and the synthetic structures are often regarded as "illogical, irregular" etc.
    It is true that analytic tendencies are becoming more and more important, even prevailing in many languages that are spoken today.
    The surface problem is that analytic structures simply seem more logical than synthetic structures, this is why we hear that "English is more logical than German".

    In general, mainly analytic languages express meaning in something like little blocks of meaning, each block one word, and then you just put these blocks one after another and make a sentence, word after word. It all looks very logical. If you change one element, it doesn't mean that others will change too.

    But mainly synthetic languages have elements that are much more intertwined and interlaced; change one element and the rest will have to change too. This is why synthetic languages appear quite illogical.

    But what synthetic languages do "on the surface", in their word forms, analytic languages have to do "in the head", "underneath".

    Yes, the thread is an absolute beauty, and BBH's input is amazing. It is just that from my linguistic perspective, sometimes some issues were like a pot of hot brew, and you were stealing around it like cats, to speak in a metaphor. No pun intended.

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    Utility, inferrences, indirect things, ... that goes for *all* natural languages (regardless of their analytic/synthetis structures). These things are not strictly language specific, they are specific for a communication situation.

    I think that the main crux with this topic is that language was usually seen as confined to surface forms (each individual language).

    You offered the solution:
    (On http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=30178&page=2&pp=20)

    But then the reasoning didn't seem to go on in this direction.
    IMO, the clue is simply that logics is a matter of thinking, not of a certain individual language.
    Speaking several languages myself, I know that I can be logical or illogical in any of them. What does matter is HOW WELL one knows a certain language: if one doesn't have the words or structures, that doesn't mean that that language doesn't provide them.

    There are some specifics of course, sometimes a certain thing can be expressed more concisely in German than it does in English and so on, but I've realized that such cases are really just exceptions that can be overcome by eloquence. Maybe German has great participles, but English has great infinitive structures. What's the point if I come up with a certain ideal mixture of several languages -- when other people don't speak that same mixture?!

    The way person A represents his thinking in a certain language can be more or less logical than the way person B presents his thinking in that same language.
    That is all.
     
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    Forgive me if Chinese has already been mentioned earlier in this thread in a posting I skipped over, but judging by the current direction of the discussion I'm guessing that it hasn't.

    That is not considered to be true by the Chinese. "Ren kan shu." "Person read book." No tense, no number, no case, no gender. If any of these things matter, you can add words to express them. "San-ge nan ren zuo-tian kan shu." "Three-unit male person yester-day read book." Case is stated by subject-verb-indirect object-direct object word order, as in English. "Wo gei ni bi." "I give you pen."

    True, but if a civilization and its language are allowed the continuity to evolve for thousands of years without interruption, the minimum number of categories required turns out to be very small. Chinese has nouns, transitive (active) verbs, intransitive (stative) verbs, numbers, and a particle with the sole purpose of parsing sentences which might otherwise be confusing.

    It has words that mean "I," "you," etc., but they are nouns and can be used exactly like any other noun.

    It has words that are customarily translated as adjectives, but they are stative verbs. "Gou lao." / "Dog is-old." -- "Lao gou ai ni." / "Being-old dog love you."

    Obviously the language has no inflections. All words are one syllable, there are no pre-, in-, or suffixes. There are many words that appear to us to be commonly used as endings, but they are in fact nouns. "Er" and "zi" are commonly appended to nouns as a diminutive ending, but they are nouns that mean "child" or "little one."

    There is no gender, not even in pronouns. "Ta" means "he," "she," or "it." Interesting that a culture we tend to think of as sexist gets by with a language devoid of gender.

    What it does not have, to its credit, is the tiny, outdated, nearly useless set of prepositions that we're accustomed to. Words like "at," "in," and "by" have to serve so many different purposes that they're almost completely devoid of any real intrinsic meaning.

    In Chinese, relationships are expressed by nouns and verbs. "Ren zai che li." "The man is in the car," but literally, "Man occupy car interior." "Wo cong pu lai. "I come from the store," but literally, "I depart store, (and) come."

    This means that as culture, politics, science, and other disciplines advance, and new kinds of relationships become important, the Chinese can draw on their stock of thousands of nouns and verbs to express them.

    We're just starting to do that. We use gerunds such as "concerning" and adjectives such as "absent" as prepositions. And we've accelerated the Germanic language family's tendency to just shove words together to express a relationship that we all recognize, such as "user-friendly" and "lactose-intolerant."

    Still, Chinese is way ahead of us. About four thousand years ahead of us, actually. The proof is in the fact that Chinese very rarely borrows foreign words. They have no trouble using their own lexicon to coin compound words for new ideas -- which are often much less of a mouthful than our own Latin and Greek coinages. "Computer" is "dian nao" -- "electricity brain." "Petroleum" is "shi you" -- "stone oil," which is exactly the meaning of our own word if you break it down into its hybrid Greek and Latin roots.

    It's a good thing, because Chinese phonetics makes it nearly impossible to even try to assimilate a foreign word. The only one I've learned is "vitamin," which they render "wei ta ming," "only it enlivens."
     
  12. kriminal99 Registered Senior Member

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    Oh god please don't tell me someone is trying to claim logic is not logical again... What is the confusion with self mutilators or pain freaks... somehow they related those acts to feeling loved, probably from a young age. It doesn't seem that complicated to me. A kid maybe hangs out with a little girl who is a next door neighbor (or his mom), he trips and falls and she comes to him and touches him and asks if hes ok bammo the kid now feels good every time he hurts himself.

    Anyways I know exactly what the thread starter means about words. What is in the dictionary is meaningless, words have subconsious definitions. Their true definitions are limited to memories of experiences we have had, and combinations of those. For instance the real definition of truth may only be valid, the real definition of one cannot be put into words, the real definition of say chair is probably pages long containing differences between times youve seen something referred to as a chair and times something similar was not.
     
  13. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    Fraggle Rocker,

    Thank you for your input, it is very informative.

    As for what NEEDS to be specified - tense, person, gender, ...:

    You said it: "If any of these things matter, you can add words to express them."
    Chinese is highly analytic, it is made of little blocks that are not even nearly as interlaced as in a language like Latin or the Slavic languages. (You said about Chinese: "Obviously the language has no inflections. All words are one syllable, there are no pre-, in-, or suffixes. There are many words that appear to us to be commonly used as endings, but they are in fact nouns.")

    I'm going back to Indoeuropean, and that language had a great number of categories, all specified. In time, the languages that developed from Indoeuropean, kept (some of) those categories and expressed them in a synthetic way; or lost them; or developed an analytic way to express them. Like English, for example, which doesn't know gender in verbs, but specifies it with a pronoun -- you add a word to express gender in verbs, if necessary.
    What I find most intriguing is how come that Indoeuropean developed so many categories and expressed them in a synthetic way.

    Yes. But we should differentiate between categories that are inherent to word classes and categories that can be specified with additional markers/words.
    For example, you can say 'She is reading a book' and I think you can say that SAME MEANING in Chinese too, by adding the additional word that the person reading is a she. Different means, same meaning.

    This sounds like propositional logics to me.
    In fact, what fascinates me so much about Chinese -- even though I know very little about it so you'll have to correct me if I'm wrong --, is that it developed a way to almost directly express meaning, it is almost like mathematics. It cannot be approached with the traditional syntax analysis.

    I read that Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese can be written with the same writing system, but that a Manadarin and a Cantonese cannot understand eachother when speaking; they can communicate via writing, but not via speaking. This means that that writing system is directly about meaning (like math) and not about phonetics. Which means that that writing system (or a modification of it) could be used as a representative of a completely logical way to write regardless of the individual language a person speaks.
    What do you think?


    When you take a closer look at our adjectives, they are nothing else but shortened predicate phrases:
    The sentence: 'There is a red apple on the table.' is made of (at least) these premises:
    The apple is on the table. + The apple is red.
    "to be red" is by its meaning actually a verb; an auxiliary verb + noun/adjective/participle/particle/preposition make a verb phrase.

    Also, if you tried to translate something, for example from English esp. into a Slavic language, you could soon find that a meaning that is in English given by an adjective, in the other language is given by a noun etc.
    Word classes don't translate accordingly, which means that word classes must be quite relative.

    There are at least two reasons why a language doesn't have certain categories: system pressure and language economy on one hand, and sociolingustic reasons on the other hand. Look up the etymology of things that were tabooed in one way or another in early European cultures: children, birth; dangerous animals; natural forces; the devil ...
    Slovene, for example, calls the bear "medved" - 'he who knows where honey is'; the bear was regarded as a dangerous animal, and you should not speak directly of it.
    Maybe Chinese has sociolinguistic reasons for being devoid of gender.

    In Indoeuropean, prepositions are a late invention -- if there are cases and adverbs, prepositions are not needed. Prepositions are extremely abstract, and what you are saying about Chinese wonderfully fits -- to express relationships, verbs and nouns are used.
    But you can do that in modern Indoeurpean languages too, it just sounds odd sometimes:
    'The book is under the table.' > 'The book underlies the table.'

    Here you need to think of German and non-Romance languages. They do the same thing: take their own lexicon to make words for new concepts. They have a native vocabulary and a parallel vocabulary of loan words, something English and Romance languages don't know. The loan words are usually specified for a certain meaning, but sometimes they are interchangeable with the native.

    English (Latin/Greek root) // loan word into German // German native
    TV/television // TV/Television // Fernsehen 'to see far'
    reality // Realität // Wirklichkeit
    generalize // generalisieren // verallgemeinern
    ...
     
  14. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    Kriminal99,

    There are several theories about what the meaning of a word is, I'll point out three most useful:

    1. The analytic concept: the component analysis
    This theory claims that the meaning of every word can be broken down into its components, like
    'chair': artifact, furniture, for sitting, for one person, has legs, ...
    It says that for each word, there is exactly one set of such components. It is principle of definition.

    This theory fails to explain colour words and numerals (What are the meaning components of "red"/"five"?) and abstracts (How do you break down "love" into its meaning components?). Also compounds: "the Morning Star" and "the Evening Star" both mean 'Venus', but this we know by other means than language.
    This theory is very useful though when we take a very limited group of words and try to find out how they differ one from another: the difference between a "bench" and a "chair" is that a chair is for one person, but a bench is meant for more persons to sit on. Both "to pass away" and "to croak" mean 'to die', but the difference is that "to pass away" is a more noble way to say it, "to croak" is colloquial, even vulgar.


    2. The operational concept of meaning (Wittgenstein)
    This theory suggests that the meaning of a word is its use in the language.
    This theory is very useful when it comes to understanding implicatures of all kinds. The word "this" in the previous sentence would have no meaning, if there wouldn't be the sentence before it, the title: "2. The operational ..."

    Also, the meaning of idioms and many kinds of phrases comes from understanding their use in language: "to kick the bucket" means 'to die', but there is no way to understand this from any component of the idiom: "to kick" and "bucket" seem completely unrelated to dying.
    "Hello", "Good afternoon", "

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    ", and so on also have meaning when used in a certain context: "Good afternoon", when someone says that when meeting somebody else on an afternoon, means that the speaker wishes the other person to have a good afternoon and also that he is acting by social conventins of common courtesy.


    3. The holistic concept of meaning -- prototypes
    This theory says that we don't understand words in the sense of definitions, but that we understand them in the sense of prototypes.
    We have a kind of "inner picture" of what a thing is. It is characteristic, that this "inner picture" is dynamic, elastic and adjustable -- it is a prototype.

    If we try to define "a car" via its components, we'll say that it, among other things, has 4 wheels. A limo can have 8. Is then a limo not a car?
    The problem with the component analysis is that representatives that we most certainly perceive as belonging to one group, are ruled out, because the component analysis is too detailed and stiff.

    It is the prototype of "a bird" in our mind that allows us to recognize sparrows, crows, emus, ostriches, penguins, colibris, eagles as birds, even though these representatives look very different.
    Some birds are of course "more typical" birds that other birds. To a European, a typical bird will probably be a sparrow or an eagle, while to someone living in Middle Africa it may be an ostrich. Yet they will both recognize a colibri or a penguin or a kea as a bird.

    Esp. when it comes to the meaning of abstracts, the prototype theory is best. What "love", "hate", "meaning", "sadness", "fun" etc. mean is impossible to define with a limited set of meaning components.
    While if we deal with a scheme, a model of "love", for example, then we can observe a set of certain phenomena in the real world and call it love.

    These models can vary from one person to another, esp. when it comes to abstracts.
    However, esp. terms of the middle range, like "dog, cat, tree, house, car, chair, body, food, ......" are quite society-defined and are comparable from one person to another.
     
  15. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    I think I have an answer for your question about logicality in language -- these 5 phenomena should be the clue:

    1. Imagine you are writing a letter, and then you send that letter. Why do you do it?
    Because you wish to mediate, communicate a certain MEANING. The paper and the language you have used are only tools in the process of mediating, communicating meaning.

    The main point of communication is to *communicate a meaning*, whatever it may be: to make someone know the information you have, to notify someone about your undertakings, to tell someone about your feelings, to ask someone to do something, ...


    2. Today, in our Western culture, we are focused mainly on the phonetical aspect when it comes to language: we speak of English, French, German, ...; colloquial language, standard language, slang, jargon, literary style, ...

    How did it come to this focusing on the phonetical aspect of language?
    It seems that this is a natural consequence of language evolution: We can imagine a primal tribe of Indoeuropeans, that multiplied, spread over a great geographical area, had greater or lesser contact with one another and other primal tribes. Along with that,languages developed as singular languages. This made people aware of language, as the phonetical aspect is the most "obvious" and most easily perceivable aspect of language.


    3. The reason in 2 probably lead to a specific development of the writing system: our ancestors developed a PHONETIC writing system.
    Some other and older writing systems show, that a non-phonetic approach is possible to write down language (meaning!).

    There is the old Egyptian writing system that uses pictures, and these pictures stand for meanings, not for the phonetical value of words.

    In an ideal case, anyone who learns such a writing system can read a message written with that system in his own native language. The best example for this is the mathematical writing: The meaning of
    2 + 2 = 4
    is independent of the native language of the reader.
    A German will read it: 'Zwei plus zwei macht vier', a speaker of English: 'Two plus two equals four', etc. etc.

    The surface form, the actual language is different, but the meaning *is the same*.


    4. Why do things have meaning?
    Because we ascribe meaning to them; things are important to us in one way or another, and we take notice of this importance by giving them meaning.

    Thus meaning is a matter of the RELATIONSHIP we have towards something. This relationship depends on our knowledge -- our experience.

    We can express this relationship in different ways:
    -- We can literally, mechanically do something with the thing in question (eat it, kill it, burn it, ...) -- this is the most basic form of relationship.
    -- We express emotions: we smile, cry, kiss, fight, ... .
    -- The relationship to some things is expressed by drawing, painting, making music, ... .
    -- The relationship towards something can be expressed in verbal language: this is now a form of communication that we find the most obvious. With the development of human intellect and society, verbal language evolved in a manner that it can express other relationships too -- it can describe them. However, as we see on a daily basis, verbal language does not suffice: it may mediate a certain meaning, but it does not express each relationship adequatly: if verbal language could do that, then people would feel no need to kiss, fight, play music, sculpt, paint, ...


    5. Whether something is logical or illogical is a matter of meaning, not of language.
    As shown above, meaning is a matter of our relationship towards something, and this relationship depends on our knowledge -- our experience. We can observe that what we experience, and thereby, what we know, is constantly in process.
    In society, some of the experience is presented as fix knowledge -- as this is important to maintain balance/stability and thereby survival.

    Yet humanity is trying to improve, is curious, it explores: the range of experience and thereby knowledge changes -- and thereby change our relationships to things, ie. meanings change.

    The interrelations between meanings change as we gather new experience.
    What once seemed obvious can become questionable and vice versa.
    200 years back few believed that humans could fly: it was regarded as impossible, as illogical. But new experience was added, meanigs became re-arranged, and today we find it possible for humans to fly.

    ***
    To sum up with a metaphor: To hit the nail on the head means that we said just the right thing: we expressed the exact meaning that was being looked for.

    In verbal communication, an individual language is the hammer, the thing we have a relationship to is the nail, and the act of hitting is the meaning.

    To say that a certain individual language or language in general (as understood by Generative Grammar) is 'illogical' is the same as saying that the hammer we hit with, or the pen we write with or the paper we write on are illogical. They cannot be.
    The only thing that can be illogical is meaning: a meaning is illogical when it collides or is inconsistent with other meanings.
     
  16. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

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    Braiiiiinssss. Braaaaaiiiinnnnsssss...

    Wes.... your buried thread has arisen and joined the ranks of the unthread.

    Rrrrrosa!

    If you've read the thread and seen the total collision between myself and the Fountainhed over the idea of symbols and intent, you may understand why I think this is a pipe dream. I'll try to explain quickly.

    Xev, bless her sanguine heart, brought up the subject of "qualia" in another thread; if you want a long explanation I'll give you one, but briefly stated a qualia is an atomic feeling or experience. Think of the colour purple - that colour, in your head, that's a qualia.

    There is no way to take your qualia and communicate them reliably to someone else - you'll never be able to verify that they got what you said the way you get it.

    Example: When wesmorris is born, I implant a device into his optic nerves which makes him see all things as photo-negative - the colours are reversed. To him, red looks cyan, blue looks magenta, green looks yellow, and all other colours are similarly transformed for him.

    Rosa looks at an apple: in her head, she sees the colour we call red.
    Baby wes looks at an an apple: in his head, he sees the colour we call cyan.

    So wes grows up, and learns about colours. His mama holds up an apple, and says "the apple is red".

    "Wed," says cute little baby wes.

    Sixteen years old, learning to drive - listening to the driving instructor.
    "Stop at the red sign," says the instructor.
    "Okay," says wes, and stops at the stop sign.

    His entire life, once he learns what is called red, he flawlessly recognizes that colour and associates that name with it. However, his qualia is not Rosa's, who sees red as red. He still sees it as cyan, but everyone's name for cyan in his world is "red".

    And he will associate the cyan colour with all the things we associate with red, and all the good and bad thereof - the vibrant sweetness of summer strawberries, the panic of the sudden stop sign, the warm lips of his beloved. That is "red" to him, and we have no way of knowing that his "red" is not our "red" in his head.

    Because, even though I implanted that reversing device in his head, how do I know that he saw red the same way I do to begin with? Perhaps he was already reversed and I changed him back... perhaps he saw red as green and now I've made his green look like magenta, and so he sees a little more like me... or something. But there's no way to know, because you can't ask.

    The same is true, really, of all sensations - we might assume that a few are relatively similar, like pain, but this is an assumption again. As a result, since our experiences can't really be transmitted except in the imperfect context that we manage to form with the other person that we talk to/at, communication may approach exactness but will never reach it.
     
  17. water the sea Registered Senior Member

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    6,442
    Big Blue/Green/Red/Yellow/Apple/Ummm Head:

    I don't know where the problem is:

    1. The deal with signs, symbols etc. is explained before page 30 of most books that have "introduction to linguistic" in the title. And I have read the troubles you two had in this thread ...
    In very short, intent is something we *assume* that communication has, and we step into communication with the idea that there *is* some intent. Whenever someone says "Why did you do/say that?" he is asking about intent.

    2. As I sketched out in the Possibility thread, and Wes knows about this, we can describe the whole problem of "I see blue but you see green" as a matter of observational distance; certain characteristics of this distance are regarded as "normal and objective", and other, that are regarded as "subjective". (See there.)

    3. The idea of implanting some sort of device which will make someone see differently is a) unrealistic, b) shows the desire of wanting to define das Ding an sich, hence the qualia issue.

    Do not forget that even if such an experiment would be possible, this person would simply tune into his sort of reality and tune it in with "our" sort of reality, and learn that the colour on the semaphor is *called* red, and strawberries are *called* red.

    The only problem I see is that hat device may not correctly shift his whole spectrum, and it could happen that 2 colours would cover one another; like what is called red could be covered with what is called orange, and this person would regard both as one colour -- who knows how exactly the colour system in our head works.

    All that matters is that we TUNE IN to some social reality and accept what is regarded as "normal" -- and this happens without us even knowing it.
    And thus red is red because it is red.

    It may very well be that even without such a device in my head, in my head, I see the red of a strawberry as a different shade of red or even inverted as you: but this doesn't matter because we cannot compare it anway. But fact is, that we are both tuned into our society and our language -- and we connect stop with read, and strawberries with red, and bananas with yellow ....

    Only someone who chases after das Ding an sich will try to actually compare the things we have in our heads, and then be sad that he cannot do it.

    In fact, I am quite sure that the way I perceive depth, the picture I have in my head, is different than you, because I have a spot in my left eyelense and a minor dioptry.

    Yet I have the feeling that my world, as I see it, is complete and well, and I know my way around it.
    And unless especially notified, I assume that everybody else sees the same things as me, and I act on this assumption.

    Communication is about the feeling that A feels that B understands him, and that A feels that B feels understood by A, and vice versa.

    Exactness in communication would be possible if there would be no communication distance between A and B; in other words: communication would be exact if A wouldn't feel as A, and B wouldn't feel as B, and A wouldn't see that there is a B, and B wouldn't see that there is an A.
    As long as partners have individual identities, exactness as such is simply not possible.

    The essence of communication is misunderstanding: Only after the two parties have established that there is a misunderstanding between them, they can make an effort to clear that misunderstanding. This can actually be done, and both feel understood by eachother -- communication can achieve *functional* exactness, or hit the nail on the head.

    Humans have two wonderful abilities: they can misunderstand, and they can understand. Of course you cannot take your qualia and communicate them reliably to someone else. This is probably exactly one of the reasons why humans have the feeling of being an "I", of having an identity. Misunderstandings are something that comes with the deal of identity.

    Fact is that communication works, even though it may not be explicable as exact and logical etc. What does collide are human *interests*, not words or language.

    I don't know why you are so much after this Ding an sich and exactness. Are you into quantum physics or linguistics or ... ?

    Thanks for the thoughts though.

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  18. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

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    Eh... let me see if I can help. It may be that you haven't encountered failed communication so much; perhaps you are a better communicator than I. I'll try to provide an illustration of the problem I'm talking about here - namely, that I think the lack of exactness is a much wider gap than most people think it is.

    Imagine you are reading a theoretical proof that you don't understand, to a professor of that field. They asked you to because they're stuck somewhere with no access to media except a telephone. It's a short, easily surveyable proof but you just don't get it because you don't know anything about the field, so you're rattling off the figures on the page over the phone to the professor.

    When you get finished, they say, "Ah, so the reorientation of the primary fields is what leads to the blah blah blah et cetera." Let's say for the sake of the argument that they now understand the proof quite easily and completely, they just never had a chance to read it until now.

    So were you communicating with intent to explain the proof? You couldn't really, because you didn't understand it. The intent behind the communication was someone else's - the writer of the proof. They're piggybacking on your words; you act as a channel for an intent without actually having that intent.

    Thus, the intent of the immediate communicator is not necessary for communication, and the meaning of the communication rides entirely on its content.

    I am after this Ding an sich because I have known a few people (in RL and on the net)who consistently fail to communicate because they are locked into their own context so firmly that they can't be bothered to try to inherit other people's intended communications. You can witness this in the WE/P forums here... and the failure to communicate in that case seems to say more than just "inexact" to me.
     
  19. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,442
    Big Blue Head,



    I guess that what you call "failed communication" is this very situation we have right here?

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    I think I have encountered many many failed communications. But I did not perceive them as "failed communication" -- to me, it was a matter of colliding interests, colliding egos, real misunderstandings due to a lack of information ...

    Maybe I am just an old-fashioned European. Maybe it is me being a future teacher (hopefully) that makes me see communication differently. Hell, maybe it is because I'm a woman, and women have a different sense for communication already implanted in our brains.

    I don't know, maybe it is about being a "professional student" that I am, that I am used to read theories, and take them with some reservation -- I always try to allow as much room as possible, I am always trying to be ready that there could be a misunderstanding, and when I enter communication, it is with the readiness to clear up any misunderstandings that may come up.

    Yes, I guess that the lack of exactness could be overbridged by directly communicating qualia -- just like robots though ...
    As for the wide gap: I'd say that the *lack of willingness* is a much wider gap than most people think it is. The problem isn't exactness, IMO, it is willingness to communicate.

    In this sense, I can totally understand why someone like Jesus came up with the idea of "love ye one another": listen, give people time, give things time, let them evolve, don't push your opinion, maybe the other person doesn't know all the stuff you do, meet them halway.
    Uh, needless to say, this is not very capitalistic -- but it is efficient when it comes to communication as such.


    In fact, I have encountered such situations. I have to call places sometimes for my dad, ask questions about things I have no clue of, write down answers I have no clue of.

    But what I do do is this: Before I have to do something like that, I ask my dad to give me the exact questions I need to ask, possible additional questions, what the answers I will get are going to be like and such.

    And then I take the postion of the transmitter ... and things work. And I don't just rattle off the figures. I read them slowly and comprehendably.

    My intent was to communicate what *somebody else asked* me to do. My intent was *not* to explain the proof. When I need to make a call like that, I take this very position: "Hello. I am calling in the name of XY, and he has asked me to ... He has given me these exact questions and I would like you to ..."
    My intent was to function as a transmitter, as a mediator, not as someone who is presenting some data as the original source of it, and I say so.

    And when the other party says something like "Ah, so the reorientation of the primary fields is what leads to the blah blah blah et cetera.", I say something like, "I hope that the message I transferred was useful to you, but I really couldn't say anything about it. You'll have to talk to my boss."

    You should play secretary for someone sometimes!

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    Everyone entering communication has some intent, and everyone also assumes that everyone else is acting on some intent.

    Once these intents are *clearly communicated* and communication positions taken in a clearly understandable manner ("I am so and so and I call on the behalf of so and so"), misunderstandings and failed communication are not so prone to happen.

    We (almost) always have the opportunity to explain the meta-aspect of communication; or to find these explanations ourselves ("Aha, SF. I only type, people cannot hear my voice or see my face. When I am joking or being sarcastic, I have to write it -- *grin*, *joke*...).

    It is very true though, that people are often not good at this. I see it all the time, so I try to step in, meet them halfway, I figure out what their exact intent is. This can then easily be misunderstood and misconstrued as smarminess, corniness, lack of integrity, general twatness, hidden agenda ...


    The information theory explains communication thus:

    There is a source of information -- a *sender*, transmitting a *message* by a *means* of communication along the information *channel* to the *receiver* of information.
    (I translated this, so there may be some different terms in English.)

    All these participants can be meta-explained when in actual communication:

    1. I meta-explain the sender: "I am calling *on the behalf* of ..."
    2. I meta-explain the message: "he asked me to tell you this ..."
    3. I meta-explain the means: "my English is not very good, so please remind me if you shouldn't understand something ..."
    4. I meta-explain the channel: "Oh, there are some problems with the phone connection, I'll repeat what I just said ... Did you hear me?"
    5. I meta-explain the receiver: (I know whom I am calling -- in the sense that I know what I can expect -- even though my expectation may be "I have no idea what the other person is like or what they'll say. Let's see.").

    It is good to keep such things in mind when communicating ...

    This is a matter of clashing egos, clashing interests, not necessarily a clash of communication.

    You say it: "they are locked into their own context so firmly that they can't be bothered to try to inherit other people's intended communications" -- they are not conscious communicators.
    In such a case, the conscious communicator is conscious enough to *step back* from trying to communicate something to that person -- unless this person is your friend or close or important to you in one way or another.
    In that case, you will use other ways to make them see you point.

    Here the simple truth is to be kept in mind, that we cannot change other people, neither should we try to, unless they explicitly came to us, seeking advice.

    Each of us has a certain background, a certain experience, certain theories and knowledges -- and the other party in communication doesn't know everything that we do, and we don't know everything they do.

    Just think, how wonderful and easy it can be, if this happens: "Ok, we have both studied Wittgenstein's writings about language, and now we can talk about this very post in terms of his theory." -- we will have understanding, mostly. Because whatever we say, our basis are W.'s writings, this is our common platform, and we just present different POV's from off this platform, but there will be no contradictions (that is, if W.'s theory is completely without inner contradictions).

    In RL, such things rarely happen, as we usually don't have such a common platform. But, in time, when we get to know the other person, we learn something about their platform and the way their terms translate into our platform.

    By now, I know what "fittest" means when Wes uses it; I know what "inhumane" means when Votorx uses it; I know what "fear" means when QQ uses is; I know what "mysoginic mysanthrope" means when Gendanken uses it ...

    I don't think that your strife for exactness and das Ding an sich will bear fruit, and I don't mean to discourage you or offend you. I think that seeking such exactness in everyday RL is a try to mechanicisize RL, in order to make it more manageable.

    Well, that's what I think. Let me know what you think.

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  20. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,996
    Ordinarily I try to avoid block quoting, but I usually fail... here is my attempt to clarify my position.

    I mention the WE/P forum specifically because of gents like Otheadp, who has a rather different background from myself. Most notably our opinions differ on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Otheadp has, in the past, stated that he considers a pregnant Palestinian woman to be a weapon, like a gun trained on his head. Rhetoric, to be sure, but it changes how you read his words when you know this; for him, when an Arab woman has a baby, that is like if your neighbor affixed a bomb to your house. When a Palestinian family has children, he sees this as an arms race. (Whether he considers pregnant Israeli women to be weapons, I didn't ask.)

    Now, when I consider all people to be just people and Otheadp considers some kinds of people to be an immediate threat to his life by their very existence, it doesn't surprise me that we can't have a meaningful dialogue on this subject. Whether or not this is about ego or experience is sort of beside the point, because ultimately he is not hearing the words I say the way I thought I said them... and his words don't reach my ears in the form he meant them either.

    Betimes, two people may decide to work together and forge a context within which they can communicate... but if something like the above difference is present between the two of them, their shared context may be a farce whether or not they ever realize it.

    Imagine a conversation about Darwin between a secular humanist and a 19C Jingoist.

    The secular humanist argues that Darwin's theory demonstrates the vast complexity of the world, as well as its changeability; the form of living things is not fixed, but rather they (retroactively viewed) assume a form that functions best in their immediate environment.

    The Jingoist argues that Darwin's theory demonstrates the importance of understanding the concept of competition for resources, and that this new paradigm for environment shows us that neutrality is not possible - imperialistic expansion is the only alternative to being destroyed. The strong must get stronger, because every other country is a threat.

    They both read the same book...

    I'm not really talking about when someone uses a novel term, although that can confuse things. I mean that when you say a sentence, like "I thought the philosophy of Star Wars was more profound than that of Lord of the Rings," one person will hear "I'm insulting your favourite book," another will hear "I am a fellow Star Wars fan," and a third will hear "Blah blah blah I'm a loser wasting your time."

    When I say communication is inexact, I don't mean "only 95% accurate" and I'm seeking that last 5%, I mean that in many situations we fail to communicate anything meaningful, but rather only follow accepted templates of interaction that vaguely resembles communication.

    Have you ever argued with a Sophist? That might help... of course, it's no fun. I'm not sure if there are any in your immediate vicinity.

    Anyway, if you get a chance, grit your teeth and try it once. Usually you'll argue for hours, cyclically, with series of exchanges that go like this:

    A: So, you agree with *assertion*?
     
  21. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,996
    Ordinarily I try to avoid block quoting, but I usually fail... here is my attempt to clarify my position.

    I mention the WE/P forum specifically because of gents like Otheadp, who has a rather different background from myself. Most notably our opinions differ on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Otheadp has, in the past, stated that he considers a pregnant Palestinian woman to be a weapon, like a gun trained on his head. Rhetoric, to be sure, but it changes how you read his words when you know this; for him, when an Arab woman has a baby, that is like if your neighbor affixed a bomb to your house. When a Palestinian family has children, he sees this as an arms race. (Whether he considers pregnant Israeli women to be weapons, I didn't ask.)

    Now, when I consider all people to be just people and Otheadp considers some kinds of people to be an immediate threat to his life by their very existence, it doesn't surprise me that we can't have a meaningful dialogue on this subject. Whether or not this is about ego or experience is sort of beside the point, because ultimately he is not hearing the words I say the way I thought I said them... and his words don't reach my ears in the form he meant them either.

    Betimes, two people may decide to work together and forge a context within which they can communicate... but if something like the above difference is present between the two of them, their shared context may be a farce whether or not they ever realize it.

    Imagine a conversation about Darwin between a secular humanist and a 19C Jingoist.

    The secular humanist argues that Darwin's theory demonstrates the vast complexity of the world, as well as its changeability; the form of living things is not fixed, but rather they (retroactively viewed) assume a form that functions best in their immediate environment.

    The Jingoist argues that Darwin's theory demonstrates the importance of understanding the concept of competition for resources, and that this new paradigm for environment shows us that neutrality is not possible - imperialistic expansion is the only alternative to being destroyed. The strong must get stronger, because every other country is a threat.

    They both read the same book...

    I'm not really talking about when someone uses a novel term, although that can confuse things. I mean that when you say a sentence, like "I thought the philosophy of Star Wars was more profound than that of Lord of the Rings," one person will hear "I'm insulting your favourite book," another will hear "I am a fellow Star Wars fan," and a third will hear "Blah blah blah I'm a loser wasting your time."

    When I say communication is inexact, I don't mean "only 95% accurate" and I'm seeking that last 5%, I mean that in many situations we fail to communicate anything meaningful, but rather only follow accepted templates of interaction that vaguely resembles communication.

    Have you ever argued with a Sophist? That might help... of course, it's no fun. I'm not sure if there are any in your immediate vicinity.

    Anyway, if you get a chance, grit your teeth and try it once. Usually you'll argue for hours, cyclically, with series of exchanges that go like this:

    A: So, you agree with *assertion*?
    B: Yes, I suppose.
    A: And *assertion* also is true.
    B: I guess.
    A: Well, then, *conclusion* is true!
    B: *Conclusion* doesn't follow just from *assertion* and *assertion*.
    A: Then instead of *assertion*, we could say *new assertion*
    B: I suppose so.

    And on and on it goes.

    I once had an argument with such a one about whether subjective morality was possible. We argued for hours, until eventually I realized what the problem was:

    He believed in God. God was a hidden premise in his argument. So, even when he was talking about a world with "no objective morality" (that is, no fundamental moral law) he STILL INCLUDED GOD. So, no objective morality, but GOD STILL SEES YOUR SINS NO MATTER WHAT. (Which is objective morality, by the way.)

    I only noticed this logical contradiction by chance - that particular sophist was incapable of thinking of a world with no God. I considered them an intellectual cripple for this; they no doubt thought the same of me.

    What I'm trying to get at is, how many irreconcilable differences are there between you and the people that you talk to all the time? How much does it twist your words when they hang in the air between you? Even with people you spend time with regularly, you may fail to ascertain these differences.
     
  22. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,442
    I was thinking about this some more, and I think this may be the clue:

    Do you suppose that meaning is something that is inherent to the message?
    Do you suppose that intent is something that is inherent to the message?

    If both should be yes, then I have to oppose:
    Intent and meaning are inherent to communication (as understood by the information theory), not to the message.
    The message has only a potential meaning, that gets realized in accordance with the intents of the two communicators: and as the intent of the sender may be different from the one of the receiver, the meaning of the message can be a different one for the sender than it is for the receiver.

    Why the hell do you go into such communication then?!
    There is no rule or obligation saying that we have to understand eachother no matter what, there is no rule or obligation saying that we have to make things work no matter what. Sometimes some things just don't work. I don't have a problem with that.

    This is why I avoid talking to a certain person in the Religion forum, for example.
    As much as my vanity itches me to get into a juicy fight, I have seen that this person has displayed quite an ignorant, simplistic and brutal character (at least to me), so I avoid him. I think that it would be a waste of time, so I rather choose a communication that bears more quality for me.

    No, no, no! This is *not* what I was saying. I said: "Ok, we have both studied Wittgenstein's writings about language, and now we can talk about this very post in terms of his theory."
    One thing is to have a conversation *about* Darwin, and something *completely different* is to read his theory, accept it as a platform, and then from this platform discuss matters regarding natural selection, survival of the fittest ... Eg.:
    A: So should we see Darwin's "Origin of species" as our platform?
    B: Yes.
    A: OK.
    B: I would first like to know how to explain surrogat parenting in animals, as *seen by Darwin' theory*. What does he say about it?
    A: Well, surrogat parenting in animals is not very frequent. Darwin says that species try to pass on their genes, while surrogat parenting is not directly about passing on your own genes. Did you read any passage in his works that may clarify this issue?
    ...


    Young jedi, listen to what you are told.

    How on Earth (sic!) is it *reasonably* possible to *reasonably* discuss which philosophy is more profound -- the one of SW or the one of LOTR?

    It is about choosing your battles. Discussing which of the two philosophies is more profound is ... futile, to say the least. Unless, of course, you wish to be a nerd and have your nerdom explained to you by somebody else.

    So what if someone feels insulted if I like SW better than LOTR? (Harrison Ford rocked!)

    Of course people hear different things, even though they hear the same words.
    This is why we say that we are *subjective* *individuals*.


    Then ask yourself this: "Why do we communicate? Why do we seek conversation with others?"

    Originally, communication is about orientation in the environment, connected with survival, in all its modern and abstract forms.

    And it is also chitchat. It's social interaction. It's something to let the voice flow, so that by the voice you can tell what that person feels (not exactly doable here).
    Often, communication is a means to exercise your brain, yes, communication can be a useful toy to indulge a brain that obvioulsy has too much RAM and diskspace to burn.

    I avoid that like the plague. Of course it's no fun! It's a waste of time!

    "We should not give in to the pleasures of debate, the way the Masters of theology in Paris do," said William Baskerville to his apprentice Adson in Eco's "The name of the rose".


    Our attitude is most obvious when we talk about things that we cannot measure exactly.
    When something cannot be told in meters, kilos, kilotons, seconds, becquerels or aengstroms, we measure by measurements like:
    Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
    Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
    To me the meanest flower that blows can give rise to
    Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.


    You two were talking about things that are measurable only in attitude.


    Always some.

    I bet it does, but I cannot measure it. So my attitude prevails.

    Yes. It's a fact of life.

    I can see that you wish to have things really clearly sorted out, that you are very strict. And I bet that my approach may come across as simplistic or moralizing.
    But my experience is that seeking exactness in communication as you suggest, and ultimately seeking das Ding an sich is -- like trying to catch a rainbow. In all the width that this metaphor provides.
    Or did you take the "modern" position and said something like "You know what, Kant and Schopenhauer, screw you with your "das Ding an sich is unattainable and indescribable", I'm gonna find it!"

    But you can do a simple experiment: Take your phone, dial your number, and listen: it is busy. This is das Ding an sich.

    But I'd be happy to learn that you managed to get to das Ding an sich! Let me know.

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  23. BigBlueHead Great Tealnoggin! Registered Senior Member

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    I'm not seeking an unattainable indescribable.

    I don't believe that intent is inherent in a message, and meaning is such that it can't survive all the way from one communicator to the other. The most common situation is one where a long series of messages are needed, all couched in a common if loose context, before intent can be divined. I'll try and illustrate this with a weak example - consider Hitler's literary work Mein Kampf. Though my reading of it is shallow at best, I have noted that it is a monster of grafts - that is, different from the thundering singularities that the ancient philosophers were famous for. Where Sextus Empiricus, with a few sentences, outlined what he thought was the failure of human reason, Hitler instead takes a long view. He combines reasonable, but subtly shaded observations of political will, which ultimately lead - apparently innocently - to his martial conclusions. A path is laid for the reader, straight and true, leading through charted territory, but inexorably approaching his desired statement, supporting a tiered view of a country's citizens as a supporting mechanism of statecraft.

    This use of "meaning", the drawing of paths, doesn't lead one to the conclusion that one feels on the initial following of the paths; if our experience was considered as a three-dimensional solid, and a statement was a line drawn through it, the difference between two people's experience dictates that a solid line in one person's experience is representative of a jumbled group of non-colinear segments in another one's. As such, meaning as indication is not something that we can assume, because two people's indication systems are no more congruent than their collections of meaning.
     

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